69. Woe to scribes and pharisees!
Woe to scribes and pharisees!……TO the multitude, and to his disciples spake Jesus, saying,
The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.
And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.
But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
¶But woe unto you, scribes and pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.
Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
¶Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
Scripture: Matthew 23:1-12
Meditation 1 of 5:
Does your practice match your talk? Jesus chides the scribes and Pharisees for their showy practices. In a way they wanted to be good models of observant Jews. See how well we observe all the ritual rules and regulations of our religion! In their misguided zeal for religion they sought respect and honor for themselves rather than for God and for his word. They made the practice of their faith a burden rather than a joy for the people they were supposed to serve. Respect for God and his ways inclines us to Godly humility and simplicity of heart. The word disciple means one who listens in order to learn. Jesus shows us the way to the Father — the way of peace, joy, righteousness, holiness, and true happiness. He showed us the way by lowering himself as a servant for our sake. He humbled himself, even to death on a cross, that we might be raised up and exalted at the Father’s right hand in heaven (Phil. 2:1-11). What is true Christ-like humility? Humility is true self-knowledge — regarding oneself as God see each of us. The humble do not trust in themselves, but trust in God and in the power of his love and saving grace. True humility is a servant-like quality which enables one to place his or her life at the service of God and others. Do you know the joy of Christ-like humility and simplicity of heart?
“Lord, teach me your way of servanthood and humility that I may walk in love as you have loved. Fill me with the joy of servanthood that I may inspire others to walk in your way of happiness and holiness.”
Scripture: Matthew 23:13-22
Meditation 2 of 5:
When God knocks on your door are you ready to let him in (Rev. 3:20)? God offers each of us an open door to his kingdom, but we can shut ourselves out if we reject his offer. What is the door to heaven? When Jacob fled from his brother Essau, who wanted to kill him for stealing his birthright (Genesis 27:41), he sought refuge in the wilderness. There God pursued him and gave him a vision that both changed his life and the life of his people. As Jacob slept on a star-lit hillside God showed him a great ladder or stairway that extended from earth to heaven. This stairway was filled with a multitude of angels ascending and descending before the throne of God. God opened heaven to Jacob so he could dwell more fully and intimately with this son of promise. God spoke to Jacob and renewed the promises which he had made to his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac, and now to Jacob and his posterity. God promised not only to bless and protect Jacob, but to make him and his descendants a blessing to all the nations as well. When Jacob awoke he exclaimed: “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17). God opened a door for Jacob that brought him and his people into a new relationship with the living God.
Jesus proclaimed to his disciples that he would fulfill the dream of Jacob in his very own person: “You will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man” (John 1:51). Jesus proclaimed that he is the door (John 10:8-9) and the way (John 14:6) that makes it possible for us to access heaven and God’s very throne. But Jesus woefully warned the religious leaders and successors of Jacob that they were shutting the door of God’s kingdom not only on themselves but on others as well. The word woe expresses sorrowful pity and concern as well as grief and extreme sadness.
Why did Jesus lament and issue such a stern rebuke? Jesus was angry with the religious leaders because they failed to listen to God’s word and they misled the people they were supposed to teach and lead in the ways of God. Jesus gave a series of examples to show how misguided they were. In their zeal to win converts, they required unnecessary and burdensome rules which obscured the more important matters of religion, such as love of God and love of neighbor. They were leading people to Pharisaism rather than to God. Jesus also chastised them for their evasion of binding oaths and solemn promises. Oaths made to God were considered binding, but the Pharisees found clever ways to evade the obligation of their oaths when convenience got in the way. They forgot that God hears every word we utter and he sees the intention of the heart even before we speak or act. The scribes and Pharisees preferred their idea of religion to God’s idea. They failed as religious leaders to teach others the way of God’s kingdom because they failed to listen and to understand the intention of God’s word. Through their own pride and prejudice they blindly shut the door of their own hearts and minds to God’s understanding of his kingdom.
How can we shut the door of God’s kingdom in our lives? By closing our ears to Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 17:14; 19:16), who speaks words of life and love, truth and freedom, hope and pardon. The Lord Jesus wants to dwell with us and to bring us his kingdom. He opens the way for each of us to “ascend to heaven” and to bring “heaven to earth” in the daily circumstances of our lives. God’s kingdom is present in all who seek him and who do his will. Do you pray as Jesus taught, “May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10)?
“Lord, your word is life for me. May I never shut the kingdom of heaven through disbelief, indifference, or disobedience. Help me to listen to your voice and to conform my life more fully to your word.”
Scripture: Matthew 23:23-26
Meditation 3 of 5:
Do you allow any blindspots to blur your vision of God’s kingdom and his ways? Jesus went to the heart of the matter when he called the religious leaders of his day blind Pharisees andhypocrites! The word hypocrite means actor — someone who puts on a show to draw attention to themselves. The scribes devoted their lives to the study of the Law of God and regarded themselves as legal experts in it. They divided the ten commandments and precepts into thousands of tiny rules and regulations. They were so exacting in their interpretations and in trying to live them out, that they had little time for anything else. By the time they finished compiling their interpretations it took no less than fifty volumes to contain them! Jesus chastised them for neglecting the more important matters of religion, such as justice and the love of God. In their misguided zeal they had lost sight of God and of his purpose for the law.
Jesus used the example of tithing to show how far they had missed the mark. God had commanded a tithe of the first fruits of one’s labor as an expression of thanksgiving and honor for his providential care for his people (Deut. 14:22; Lev. 27:30). The scribes, however, went to extreme lengths to tithe on insignificant things (such as tiny plants) with great mathematical accuracy. They were very attentive to minute matters of little importance, but they neglected to care for the needy and the weak. Jesus admonished them because their hearts were not right. They were filled with pride and contempt for others. They put unnecessary burdens on others while neglecting to show charity, especially to the weak and the poor. They meticulously went through the correct motions of conventional religion while forgetting the realities. Jesus used a humorous example to show how out of proportion matters had gotten with them. Gnats were considered the smallest of insects and camels were considered the largest of animals in Palestine. Both were considered ritually impure. The scribes went to great lengths to avoid contact with gnats, even to the point of straining the wine cup with a fine cloth lest they accidently swallowed a gnat. The stark contrast must have drawn chuckles as well as groans. What was the point of Jesus’ lesson and humor? The essence of God’s commandments is love — love of God and love of neighbor. God is love and everything he does flows from his love for us. Love is sacrificial; it both embraces and lifts the burdens of others. Do you allow the love of God to transform your mind and heart?
“Lord, fill me with your love and inflame my heart with zeal for your kingdom. May I act with mercy, kindness and justice in all my relations and in all that I do”.
Scripture: Matthew 23:27-36
Meditation 4 of 5:
How can you measure goodness and judge what is right? Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth (Isaiah 11:3-4). Jesus used strong language to warn the religious leaders about the vanity of appearance and pretense. Tombs were often placed by the sides of roads. They were painted white which made them glisten in the midday sun, especially around the time of the great feasts, so that people would not accidently touch them and incur ritual impurity. Jesus warns that what truly corrupts the soul is not ritual impurity but the impurity of sinful attitudes, such as pride, greed, sloth, envy, hatred, lust, and gluttony. The scribes and Pharisees were intensely religious in their outward observances, but their outward show didn’t match the inner reality of the state of their hearts. They not only neglected the poor and the weak, but they were intolerant towards anyone who challenged their idea of religion. That is why so many of the prophets were persecuted in the past.
Jesus chastised the religious leaders for being double-minded and for demanding from others standards which they refused to satisfy. They professed admiration for the prophets by building their tombs while at the same time they opposed their message and closed their ears to the word of God. They shut themselves to heaven and they hindered others from understanding God’s word. They rejected the Messiah because their hearts were hardened to the voice of God. Only the humble of heart can receive wisdom and understanding from God. The Holy Spirit is ever ready to renew our minds and hearts and to fill us with the peace, joy, and righteousness of God’s kingdom. Do you treasure God’s word and submit to it with fear and reverence?
“Lord, incline my heart to your wisdom and teach me your ways. Fill me with your Spirit that I may love your ways and obey your word unreservedly.”
Scripture: Matthew 23:37-39
Meditation 5 of 5:
What do you most long for? Jesus contrasts his desire and longing for Jerusalem — the holy city and temple of God — with Jerusalem’s lack of desire for him as their long-expected Messiah. Jesus compares his longing for Jerusalem with a mother hen gathering her chicks under her protective wings. Psalm 91 speaks of God’s protection in such terms: “He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge” (Ps. 91:4). Jesus willingly set his fact toward Jerusalem, knowing that he would meet betrayal, rejection, and death on a cross. His death on the cross, however, brought about victory and salvation, not only for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, but for all — both Jew and gentile — who would accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
Jesus’ prophecy is a two-edged sword, pointing to his victory and redemption and foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem and the dire consequences for all who would reject him and his saving message. While the destruction of Jerusalem’s temple was determined (it was razed by the Romans in 70 A.D.), there remained for its inhabitants a narrow open door leading to deliverance. Jesus says: “I am the door; whoever enters by me will be saved” (John 10:9). Is your desire for the heavenly city, Jerusalem (Rev. 21:2)? And is your life securely submitted to the lordship of Jesus Christ?
“Lord Jesus, in you I place all my trust and hope. May I wholly desire you and your will above all else and long for the heavenly city Jerusalem as my true home and refuge. Fill my heart with love and mercy for others that I may boldly witness to the truth and joy of the gospel through word and example, both to those who accept it and to those who oppose it.”